American Society for the Alexander Technique
How a Posture Coach Taught Me to Finally Stand Up Straight Like My Mother Told Me
As Beyoncé says, “OK, ladies, now let’s get in formation!”
(Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)
I was tall from a young age, which meant my boobs came up directly to my male classmates’ faces for most of junior high. Now, as a 5-foot-10 adult, I like my height, but sometime in those self-conscious formative years, I developed a “don’t look at me” slump that never went away. I forget about it until somebody snaps a candid photo of me in which I’m hunched over like Quasimodo and look 20 pounds heavier than I am.
But my bad posture doesn’t just make me look bad, it’s also bad for me. My neck and shoulders are always stiff and painful as a result of my slump — my fiancé calls my constant muscle knots my “spider eggs.”
Although he’s quite generous with the therapeutic massages (probably because they often lead to “sexy time”), I finally decided it was time to consult a professional. A quick Google search led me to posture coach Lindsay Newitter, whose website promises to help clients “learn and maintain comfortable, good posture in order to reduce pain and fatigue and increase productivity.”
Newitter is certified in the Alexander Technique, a process used especially by actors and other performers to help realign posture and release tension.
Posture is personal to Newitter. As a teenager, she wore a back brace because of scoliosis, and after it was removed she found herself feeling physically uncomfortable and emotionally selfconscious. Then she discovered the Alexander Technique, which totally changed her life. Now she
takes pleasure in helping others understand how to better inhabit their bodies and improve their quality of life.
So I met with her for a 45-minute consultation, in which she had me stand, sit, lie down, and walk while making microadjustments to my form and body movements.
The first thing Newitter told me about my posture is that I’m putting way too much pressure on my neck by hunching my shoulders forward and angling my chin too low, most likely because I’m staring at my laptop or iPhone all day.
Given the constant neck pain, this isn’t a big revelation, but the next part is.
Try to stand or sit up straight right now. What’s the first thing you did? If you’re anything like me, you threw your shoulders back and stuck your chest out. Newitter told me this is a posture myth — rolling your shoulders back is basically just hunching backward instead of forward.
To truly correct posture, you have to focus on distributing your weight equally between the front and back of your body. This is harder to do, but feels much more natural and less stiff once accomplished. (Plus, you don’t feel as if you’re shoving your boobs in the face of everyone you pass.)
Scheduling a private session with a posture coach like Newitter is truly an invaluable way to find out what you’re doing wrong and make corrections, but even on your own, she has some tips and tricks you can use to get into balance.
Focus on the top of your head.
Newitter says we tend to think of the top of the body as starting at eye level, which keeps us from holding the head correctly. When the head isn’t level, it’s going to put extra pressure on your spine, which can affect everything down to the lower back.
She recommends scratching or tapping the top of the head to bring awareness to that spot, then focusing on lengthening the neck and spine.
“Imagine there’s an arrow pointing up to the ceiling from the top of you,” Newitter says.
2. Work smart.
Those of us who sit at a desk or type on a laptop all day can protect against strain by having a good work setup. The most important thing is that your computer is at eye level. If you’re using a laptop, Newitter says to basically turn it into a desktop by raising it up and using an external keyboard.
Your arms should be parallel to the floor and the thighs angled slightly down. Focus on your points of contact — your back against the chair, your bottom on the seat, and your feet on the floor. You want to be situated right on the sit-bones, those two bony points at the bottom of the pelvis.
And remember to take breaks! “Sitting for eight hours isn’t natural,” Newitter says. “You’ve got to get up and move.”
3. Remember that your appendages are connected to your body.
I’m a double D cup, and I can feel self-conscious about my boobs as well as my height. Newitter says it’s easy to feel pulled down by larger breasts if you are thinking of them as just kind of hanging off your chest. She suggests thinking of how the breasts connect to the back muscles and using the whole body to move fluidly. Similarly, she told me I’m moving my arms as if they’re not connected to the rest of me.
“Think of your center, your torso, as like the trunk of the tree, and your arms are the branches,” she says. “You don’t want how you use your arms to distort the trunk.”
4. Be mindful.
Good posture is largely about practicing being aware of your body and moving with intention.
To remember to be aware of your posture at first, Newitter suggests writing a note to yourself like “Think posture” or “Look up” and setting it as your lock screen as a reminder.
Focusing on your posture can act almost as a walking meditation, as you start to be mindful of your body and taking up your full space. Having good posture means you’re aligned, relaxed, present, and literally centered.
“Posture is sort of an assimilation of how we’ve been reacting to life, so changing that affects your ability to make more thoughtful choices,” Newitter says.
The benefits of all this attention? Aside from treating strain-related joint or back pain, Newitter says, good posture can increase your confidence, improve circulation, and relieve digestive problems, as well as relieving stress and anxiety and helping you feel more clear-headed.
“I’ve had quite a few people come to me for back pain, and then they realize that their stress levels are way down and they’re more confident,” says Newitter. “I think when we feel aligned, everything sort of feels unified and you feel more emotionally balanced.”
She also thinks that being mindful of the body helps with communication and interpersonal interactions.
“As people make these changes they’ll be more confident,” she says. “People will notice there’s something different about you. They’ll say, ‘Did you lose weight?’ You didn’t, you’re just standing differently.”